Give a dog a bone, and some germs and bugs too!


van Bree, F.O.J, Bokken, G.C.A.M., Mineur, R., Franssen, F., Opsteegh, M., van der Giessen, J.W.B., Lipman, L.J.A. and Paul A M Overgaauw, P.A.M. (2017) ‘Zoonotic bacteria and parasites found in raw meat-based diets for cats and dogs’, Veterinary Record, vol. 182, p. 50, (DOI: 10.1136/vr.104535).
[full reference and links]

Yet another paper has just been published confirming the less than startling fact that raw diets for dogs contain what we professionals call ‘germs and bugs‘. A team of Dutch researchers looked at thirty five samples from eight commercially available brands of raw meat based diets (RMBD) and discovered bacteria such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella, as well as parasites including Sarcocysts and Toxoplasma gondii in them. A staggering 80 per cent of the samples contained antibiotic resistant E. coli bacteria. This seething collection of flora and fauna can cause illness in humans ranging from gastro-enteritis through haemorrhagic colitis and kidney-failure, to death in new-born babies and abortion in pregnant women. The organisms can transfer from dog to dog as well as to owners either directly from the raw-fed dog or indirectly by the contamination of the surfaces and utensils used to prepare the raw-food; they will multiply at room temperatures in food bowls. In many cases dogs can carry these micro-organisms, all the time shedding them into the environment, without showing any signs of ill health themselves. Furthermore such diets have been reported to cause problems in the dogs who eat them such as damaged teeth, perforated guts, hyperthyroidism and nutritional imbalance.

The study concludes, in that typically dispassionate way that published papers do, that owners should be made aware of the risks of feeding raw food to pets. RationalVetMed would venture a step further – just don’t! There is no good reason to feed raw food to your pets and there are serious risks to you, your family and your pets if you do. If, despite the risks, you insist on feeding raw then that is up to you but don’t kid yourself it has anything to do with supposed health benefits, because there are none, your decision is purely and simply a lifestyle choice.

See for the full reference and links.

Homeopathy, science and whale omlettes


Well‘, said the homeopath, drawing breath during a particularly bruising facebook debate, ‘science doesn’t know everything. Those conventional medicines, they always do more harm than good and hardly any have been tested by your so-called Gold Standard, the double blind placebo controlled trial (DBPCT). Just the other day I heard that Cartrophen took down a bunch of Labradors!

Apart from this typically egregious example of the kind of emotive, vague and unsubstantiated ‘evidence’ homeopaths favour, the point is science doesn’t begin and end with the DBPCT. Science is a system, a method which at its most basic is just a way of asking questions and investigating claims. Science actually comes down to one particular question: ‘Prove it!’. So in the unlikely event that Carprophen [a useful, safe and popular painkiller for dogs] did ‘take down a bunch of Labradors‘ that should, and would have been investigated through the official suspected adverse reaction surveillance scheme (SARSS) and steps taken, as actually happened in cases like Thalidomide in human medicine or the use of avermectins in certain collie dogs or any one of a number of other cases. It’s easy to do, you can report drug reactions online at the click of a button from a whole load of different official government websites or you can phone the drug company direct and they’ll do it for you or, if you’re old fashioned like me, you can fill out a garish yellow Veterinary Medicines Directorate SARSS forms using your favourite fountain pen and pop it in the post – I’ve got a pile of them on my desk and use them or their online equivalents regularly.

This is science in progress – a self-correcting system working to put itself (and medicine) in order. When did you last hear of anyone using vitamin E to treat heart disease? Yet this was a very popular treatment in the middle of the last century, used by intelligent, highly trained veterinary surgeons who, like homeopaths, swore it gave good results ‘in their cases’. It’s the same with the treatments of heroic medicine – no one practices purging, firing or bleeding now, the thought of doing so would horrify any contemporary veterinary surgeon. Yet they were the go-to treatments of their day and anyone who didn’t believe in them at the time would have been regarded as being thicker than a whale omlette.

The reason these long-discredited treatments are no longer mainstream as they once were is that science-based (rational) practitioners were, unlike homeopaths, able to recognise and accept a treatment practitioners had been using for generations was doing more harm than good and were willing to change based on scientific evidence rather than just personal experience. The problem with homeopaths is they don’t change, their methods of treatment are based entirely on personal experience. When presented with actual science – evidence homeopathy is ineffective – all we hear are increasingly implausible excuses about why it really does work, despite all appearences, and how critics are always wrong. Homeopaths’ starting point is first and foremost that homeopathy works, after that any evidence which comes their way is cherry-picked, filtered or dismissed to support that core belief, not to test it as should be the case. And that ain’t science, and it ain’t right!

And the daft thing is, after all that, even if proper drugs were utter rubbish, even if they did all the dreadful things homeopaths pretend they do, it STILL wouldn’t mean that homeopathy works!

How is this not torture?

Parmen, V. (2014) ‘Electroacupuncture Analgesia in a Rabbit Ovariohysterectomy’, Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 15-24. (Links available at

To be frank, this is one of the most cruel papers on any subject I have come across. I was so utterly shocked by it I couldn’t believe what I was reading and hoped I had misunderstood what the experimenters had done here in the name of acupuncture research. So I asked Martin Whitehead, of the Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine to take a look for me. It turns out I hadn’t misunderstood, the authors of this paper had actually operated on rabbits, surgically opening their abdomens and removing their uterus and ovaries while they were fully conscious and tied down to a metal frame, without the benefit of any form of anaesthetic or pain relief, while at the same time administering electric shocks to them and claiming this was “acupuncture anaesthesia” (a discredited technique which is illegal in many countries). As a colleague said when I mentioned this paper to her, “how is that not torture?

Comment from Dr Martin Whitehead:

This paper makes me feel queasy. That it had ethical approval from the university make me feel even more queasy.

It is clear that the acupuncture group rabbits were given no anaesthesia or analgesia (other than any resulting from the acupuncture and unknown-intensity electric currents passing through the rabbit).

The neuroleptanalgesia group were given ketamine (no analgesic action) and xylazine (which does have some analgesic action) but no other analgesia.

From Table 1 it appears that the rabbits were tied down in the metal device shown in Fig. 1 and receiving the electroacupuncture for at least 42-55 mins. Even if there was no surgery, not a nice thing to do to a rabbit – assuming they are conscious throughout, which certainly seems to have been the case.

In section 2.3. it says “the intensity of the electric current stimulation was slowly increased from zero until the animals showed signs of discomfort and twitching. After that, the intensity was slowly increased to 4, 6, and finally to 8 V for the abdominal site; for dorsal stimulation, the intensity was slowly increased to 2.2 V and then to 2.7 V.” That sounds grim.

Only voltages are stated, with no idea what current was being used (e.g., for comparison with a TENS machine), so it is not possible to tell what sort of effect this current would have on nerves or muscles.

From Fig. 3, the heart rate was lower in the electroacupuncture group, except at the time of actual surgery when it was much higher, which is not a promising sign. The respiratory rate was far higher in the electroacupuncture group before and during surgery, also not a promising sign. Those findings could be interpreted as indicating that the electroacupuncture rabbits were feeling more pain than the neuroleptanalgesia rabbits.

The one scrap of comfort I get is the very last sentence of the Results section – there was no “screaming related to stress or pain”. I hope that means there was no screaming at all.

So, the next time someone says, with regard to Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine, “where’s the harm”, you might like to point them to this paper. How delusional and a priori convinced of the merits of acupuncture, must the authors be to think this was, in any way, a humane procedure?

Homeopathy, the NHS and BBC Radio Bristol

Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine’s Danny Chambers has just given a very strong interview on the John Darvil show, on BBC Radio Bristol on Wednesday 16th August, 2017.

The subject was the availability of homeopathy on the NHS and Danny gave a succinct explanation why its continuing endorsement by the NHS is wrong on every level. It’s a waste of money, undermines real medicine and, bottom line, puts lives at risk. For instance, this recent paper demonstrates that cancer patients who opt to use CAM treatments such as homeopathy are up to 5 times more likely to die within 5 years of diagnosis as a result of their cancer.

The link to Danny’s interview is here: (the relevant section starts about 7 minutes 30 seconds in) and it’s well worth a listen as a robust and measured counter to the arguments of the homeopathic lobby. It’s going to be available until around the 16th September.

Magical Thinking and the ‘Tongue Worm’

Faustino-Rocha, A.I., Henriques, N. and Venâncio, C. (2017) ‘Lyssa lingualis: debunking the myth of the “tongue worm”‘, European Journal of Companion Animal
Practice, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 63-66. [Link]

There is a fascinating article in the latest edition of the European Journal of Companion Animal Practice concerning a phenomenon I hadn’t been previously aware of.

Apparently in the days of Ancient Greece it was believed that rabies was caused by a worm which lived in a dog’s tongue. This structure can be seen as a pale streak in the midline of the underside of many dogs’ tongues and is referred to as the Lyssa (Lyssa was the goddess of madness); it does indeed look a little like a worm. The ancient remedy to ‘cure’ rabies was to remove this supposed parasite after which the dog would allegedly recover and then the Lyssa itself (which would ‘wriggle’ convincingly after removal) could be used in remedies to ‘cure’ humans who had been bitten. This was performed on the dog using a blade and without any sort of sedation or anaesthetic. Who would be mad enough to perform this procedure in a rabid dog I have no idea, but it must have been agony for the dog.

So far this sounds like nothing more than a piece of interesting, if gruesome, historical information. That is until you realise that this appalling procedure is still carried out in parts of Europe today as a supposed cure for a variety of diseases including rabies, but now also distemper and parvo-virus, still with no anaesthetic.

It turns out the Lyssa is a perfectly normal anatomic structure, possessed by all dogs, it is composed of muscle and fat. Its precise function is unknown but it’s easy to imagine it might be part of the supporting structure of the tongue. What it most emphatically is NOT, is a worm, it is part of the dog and removing it serves no purpose whatsoever. The authors of the paper describe the procedure as ‘witchcraft’ and inform us it is a criminal offence.

Just another example of magical thinking in the world of veterinary medicine (although I would hope the procedure isn’t carried out by actual veterinary surgeons) and how suffering can be caused in the name of wishful thinking.

This paper is a brilliant and simple example of how science can help counter superstition and barbarity.

A Cure for Cancer?

The website of the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS) features a case report in its ‘successful cases’ section, concerning a dog named Bedford (BAHVS, 2012). Bedford was diagnosed with a particularly nasty manifestation of a type of cancer, the squamous cell carcinoma, which appeared as a sizeable mass on top of his head, causing considerable pain and facial deformity.

The story continues, explaining Bedford’s owner, feeling conventional medicine had gone far enough, went on to seek homeopathic help, which was duly given, and to which he reportedly responded, eventually returning to his old self and able to enjoy life again, with no more problems.

From the photographs, it is clear the mass was initially large and painful, yet, after treatment, although the second photograph provided is from a slightly different angle, Bedford appears almost back to normal – the distortion of his brow and eyes seems to have gone and there is a keen look in his eyes.

Taken at face value (although the word ‘cure’, while present in the web address, is conspicuously absent from the account) this ‘successful case’ appears to support the position homeopathy can have profound, positive effects on cancer.

And what could be simpler? Dog gets cancer, dog is given homeopathy, dog recovers. Surely this must be convincing proof of the power of homeopathy?

I was curious to say the least when I first read Bedford’s story. My first thought, given what is known about homeopathy, was this story, as it stood, was unlikely to be true. Cancer Research UK, for instance, reports ‘there is no scientific or medical evidence [homeopathy] can prevent cancer or work as a cancer treatment’ (Cancer Research UK, 2015). Rather than dismiss it out of hand however, I wrote to the BAHVS and they were kind enough to send me Bedford’s clinical history.

On reading the notes, I discovered there was a significant gap in the account. It transpires, at the same time Bedford was receiving homeopathic treatment he was also being treated with robenacoxib, a drug of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) group.

This class of drugs is well researched and is widely known to have anti-cancer properties, particularly in cases of squamous cell carcinoma (Hilovska et al, 2015). Yet, for whatever reason, the BAHVS had not seen fit to point out such a drug was being given. Other science-based medications – ‘strong opiates’ for instance – are referred to, yet the very one that might have had a real bearing on the case was not even mentioned (although I notice, on the current manifestation of the page, the acronym ‘NSAID’ has indeed appeared, albeit with no explanation as to its significance).

Assuming this might have been an inadvertent omission, I wrote back to BAHVS to explain the situation and suggest, in the interests of full disclosure, they might like to add a paragraph or two to the account describing the potential role of robenacoxib in this case. That way, readers would be able to make a properly balanced judgement about the case, since anyone reading it as it stood could be forgiven for incorrectly assuming the changes in Bedford’s cancer were solely the result of homeopathic treatment.

To my great disappointment, however, the BAHVS declined to make any change to the account, informing me in its reply ‘it is what it is’.

It is clear that ‘what it is’ is simply another example of the tendency of homeopaths to cherry-pick evidence to suit their preconceptions, even, as in this case, when it has been pointed out that by doing so they are misleading the public.

It has to be asked, if homeopathic practitioners are so confident about their chosen modality – despite the wealth of scientific literature which finds it is no more effective than placebo – what is it they have to fear about presenting a full and honest account of this case rather than the one that currently still stands?


British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS) (2012) Resolved Cancer Case 2 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 24 May 2017).

Cancer Research UK (2015) Homeopathy [Online]. Available at (Accessed 24 May 2017).

Hilovska, L., Jendzelovsky, R. and Fedorocko P. (2015) ‘Potency of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in chemotherapy’, Molecular and Clinical Oncology, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 3–12, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 24 May 2017).

Bogus Homeopathic Arguments – No. 1

The establishment is conspiring to suppress the truth about homeopathy!!!

Just consider for a moment what the implications of this claim are. In order for this to be true there would have to be a world wide conspiracy involving researchers at every level in government, universities, charitable institutions and private industry, pharmaceutical companies, medical and veterinary practitioners, nurses, midwives, journalist, marketing organisations and authors would all have to be working together to suppress the supposed convincing evidence that homeopathy works. To keep the truth under wraps there would have to be a massive level of coercion – bribes, bullying, threats and blackmail, none of which has ever been reported by anyone at any time.

The alternative is that general opinion is correct while a minority of homeopathic researchers and practitoners – all of whom have a vested interest of one sort or another – continue to claim that it works and support that position by using questionable data, cherry picking evidence and quoting trials which have been refuted many times in the past.

Just because “The Establishment” is big and faceless doesn’t mean it’s automatically wrong. In fact “The Establishment” is just a collection of ordinary people like you and me who would object strongly on allsorts of grounds if they believed that the truth was being systematically hidden. According to homeopathic bodies there are literally thousands of research papers which ‘prove’ homeopathy works. Furthermore, this is a system of medicine whose practitioners claim is gentle, side-effect free, safe and consistently effective, even in the most serious of diseases – heart disease, cancer, Ebola, HIV/AIDs, malaria. If both these claims were true then everyone and their granny in health care would be using it almost exclusively, what possible reason would there be not to. Yet still homeopathy remains marginalised and discredited, the province of science denialists and new-age cranks. Why? Because it simply doesn’t work, it is no different from giving a blank sugar pill.

Consider the real conspiracies that we do know about – “big business” has tried in the past to suppress the truth about the harm from asbestos and from smoking, the car industry for years blocked seat-belt and other safety legislation with bogus claims they would do more harm than good, the pesticide industry tried to hide the truth about the harmful effects of DDT. But in all these cases, even with the political and financial clout that the companies involved had, the truth finally came out in its entirety and in a very short space of time, a few decades at the most from suspicion being voiced to having it confirmed scientifically. By comparison homeopathy has been in existence for well over 200 years and there is still no good quality evidence that is in the slightest effective.